Lesson 1 - Introduction to Hearing God's Voice - New Testament:

New Testament

God created people to know his voice and listen and talk to him while living in this world. In the New Testament preparation for the coming of Jesus was accompanied by words from the Lord through dreams, angel visitation, prophetic words, supernatural and natural phenomenon. Resource Sheet 1 - Hearing God's Voice lists some of these. Supremely Jesus is the Word who became flesh (John 1:1,14). "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1:1 -2).

Reading the gospels we discover how Jesus the man lived in relation to his Father, who becomes our Father through faith in Jesus. When Jesus was walking the earth God had a man who was perfectly in tune with his will and ways, and was able to live in complete obedience, even to death. He heard his Father's voice, both audibly and through communion in prayer. He was a man filled with the Holy Spirit who was able to receive God's direction through his spirit and his mind. With his will set to please his Father his whole being was tuned to respond to his Father's voice. He then spoke God's words with authority. As well as establishing for us the possibility of salvation, Jesus was also the first born of a new people, who would all be able to be filled with the Holy Spirit as he was - in a permanent way which the Old Testament prophets and heroes did not all enjoy. Jesus was called the Word of God. He was Father God's complete revelation of himself to humankind. John said about Jesus: "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:18). He modelled what Adam and Eve had once had, uninterrupted fellowship with God, and restored to all humans their potential to hear God speak to them.

Some Bibles have the words of Jesus in red, so when we read the gospels we can hear what God said through his Son. "So Jesus said, 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.'" (John 8:28). "For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it." (John 12:49). "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me" (John 10:25).

Many other New Testament characters demonstrate how Jesus has now enabled his followers to hear the Father's voice through the Holy Spirit. In fact, it began even before Jesus began his ministry. The world was already changing in anticipation, and people like Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist began speaking again like the prophets of the Old Testament. John was even described as having the spirit of Elijah. Following Pentecost we find disciples like Stephen (Acts 7: 54-60), who saw a vision of the Lord, and Ananias, who was used by God in his commissioning of Paul (Acts 9:10-19). Peter, John, Paul, and many others heard and spoke the word of the Lord. There were prophets in Jerusalem, such as Agabus (Acts 11:27-30, 21:10-11), and in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), such as Judas and Silas (Acts 15: 22-35), and the four unmarried daughters of Philip the evangelist in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9). Throughout the story of the early church people heard the voice of the Lord, encountered angels with messages, dreamed dreams and saw visions, prophesied and listened to prophets, and spoke in and interpreted other tongues. The prophecy of Joel was fulfilled with the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (Joel 2:28-32 cf. Acts 2:14-21). This is a necessary and integral part of the growth of the church and its ministry in the world.

As Malcolm has already said, the Bible is foundational to our hearing God's voice. Through it we discover God's dealings with people and learn something of his character. We then have a measure by which we can evaluate any 'word' we may hear. When someone today believes God is telling them something, we primarily test it against the Bible to decide if we think it might be from God or not. But because there are no longer any eyewitnesses to the earthly Jesus still alive, we can not be quite as certain about it, and would not call these 'words' scripture.

John received a revelation of Jesus Christ long after Jesus had died. The greeting was from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead (Rev 1:5). The loud voice telling John to write what he saw belonged to someone, "like a son of man" (Rev 1:10-11,13). John knew Jesus and recognised his voice but was overcome by the sight of the resurrected One. Jesus said, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!" (Rev 1:17-18).

This Jesus who was present at creation, came in the flesh and rose from the dead is still speaking. Because Jesus is alive he can and does continue to speak. In fact, there are records of people hearing God's voice, and prophesying, right throughout the history of the church, right up until today. You can see examples from our times in Resource Sheet 2 - Examples of hearing God's Voice. As we know, Jesus promised that this would increase, not die out, and this has been the case.

Jesus made it very clear when speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd and his followers as his sheep. "... the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ... he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3-4). In John 10:17, he speaks of other sheep who will listen to his voice. We are some of those other sheep for whom the Good Shepherd has given his life. If you are in any doubt about your relationship with Jesus, if you are not sure that he knows you and you know him, (John 10:14,15) this is the place to start. Hear his voice saying, "Come, and follow me." The hearers on the day of Pentecost were told by Peter, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38,39)

So, the God who speaks loves to be known by his children and to communicate to them. Everyone who is born again by water and the Spirit has the God who speaks living inside them. The obvious conclusion from Biblical and historical accounts is that every Christian should expect to hear God speaking to them directly at least from time to time. This can come in many ways, but won't happen at all unless we are willing to acknowledge that God does speak and begin to expect him to speak to us personally. Then you will begin to learn how to recognise his voice amidst all of the distractions of the natural and supernatural world around us and our own thoughts and emotions.

Colin Urquhart in The Truth That Sets You Free, says, "If you do not believe what God says you believe something else instead. You have substituted something else for the truth!" It is therefore vital that we know what God says and be able to distinguish his voice from all others.

As we begin this course there is one thing that is absolutely certain. God wants you to hear his voice. He has sent the Holy Spirit with gifts of knowledge and discernment. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come. He would have specific roles. "When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me." (John 15:26) "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you." (John 16:13-15).

It is the Holy Spirit living in our spirits that enables us to hear and recognise God's voice. Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 and Ephesians 4: 11-13 mention some of the gifts the Spirit brings. The Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 lists include listening and speaking gifts such as prophecy, teaching, the message of wisdom and knowledge, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. These gifts are all available to all Christians as they are needed, but in addition, he has set aside some people to use these gifts in special ways. Ephesians 4 speaks of the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. All need to hear God's voice if they are to prepare God's people for works of service (v.12). Paul encourages the Corinthians to "follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." Because "everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort." (1 Corinthians 14:1,3).

I am sure that all of you will have heard God speak to you. I am equally sure that often you have not recognised his voice. Some years ago, after a talk in a local church about hearing God speak, I was in the kitchen with one of the older ladies. She said, "I've never heard God speak to me." I asked if she had ever had a thought to visit someone and just popped in, only to discover the person had a particular need right at that moment. She said, "Yes!" "That was God's voice," I said. Because it had not been an audible voice she did not think of it as God speaking to her.

We will share pointers in how to recognise when God is speaking to you and provide opportunities in a safe environment to 'have a go'. We will look in more detail later at things that can prevent us from hearing God's voice, but some of these are:

  • A belief that God no longer speaks as he once did will make it difficult to hear.
  • I won't hear God's voice if I don't want to listen to him. Or if, when he does speak, I do not obey.
  • I will find it hard to hear God's voice if my mind is cluttered with other things.
  • Time is needed to be able to get to recognise and hear God's voice.
  • If I am harbouring sin or unforgiveness he doesn't hear me. (Psalm 66:18) Because prayer is a two-way conversation the channels of communication need to be clear.
  • A faulty belief will distort God's voice when he speaks.
  • Some people believe God speaks, but not to them - perhaps because they are unworthy or forgotten.
  • Physical, emotional or psychological illness may impede our hearing.

Before we move into a listening exercise we want to share some thoughts which may help you to begin to recognize what you are hearing.

Lesson 1 - Introduction to Hearing God's Voice - Recognizing a Voice:

Recognizing the source of a voice

Normally an internal voice, one which appears in your mind as a thought, has one of four sources: from yourself, from another person, from the enemy, or from God. How can you know whether an internal voice is your own thoughts, the thoughts of another person, thoughts from an evil spirit, or God's voice? By being willing to experiment, under God's covering, I found a way which works for me. I explain this method in Resource Sheet 3 - Recognising the Source of a Voice, which we will look at in more detail later. But for now let me summarise it so you can try it in the next listening exercise.

Try to discern whether a voice came from inside or outside of your being (your spirit). We'll talk more about that later. If it is outside, then it is not your own thought. Nor is it the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit dwells within you. So it is either an evil spirit, or some occult or psychic influence from another human person. The content of the voice will probably decide which it is.

If it seems to come from within you, and if it relates directly to something which you are currently thinking about then it is probably your own thought, although it might still be the Lord. If it seems to come out of the blue - unrelated to your current thinking, or a distinct step beyond what you are thinking, then assume it is the Lord until I have reason to believe otherwise.

Then apply the standard tests for anything we hear or read at any time:

  • Does it correspond with what you read in the Bible?
  • Is it consistent with the character of Jesus?
  • Will its application bring peace and encouragement, or will it produce strife?
  • Does it sit well on my spirit?
  • Do other people or circumstances confirm what you are hearing?
  • Does it lead to life or death - in the widest sense of these terms?
  • Does it cause me to feel the "anointing" of the Spirit (a very subjective test, but useful with experience)?

Evaluate all thoughts you have in the same way. Be confident that Jesus will keep his promise to lead his sheep. If you want to do God's will you will be led by the Holy Spirit. "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (John 7:17)

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

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